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Agents of Change

KGMCA leaders look to the future at Association of Arts Administration Educators conference.

Fleurette Fernando has big plans for the future of arts administration.

She launched the Master of Arts in Arts Administration program, the only graduate program of its kind in the Houston area, at the University of Houston just five short years ago and is already charting new territory.

“As educators, we need to be responsive to the arts landscape,” she says. “It’s important to keep evolving so that our programs stay relevant and our students are prepared to be leaders in this field.”

This year, Fernando co-hosted the annual Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) conference with professor Jerome Socolof at UH-Downtown. Entitled “Building Communities of the Future: Arts Administrators as Agents of Change”, the conference brought nearly 200 educators from around the country to Houston from May 31 – June 2 for a long weekend of panel discussions, networking and even some sightseeing.

“We really wanted to showcase the city and all Houston has to offer, which can be hard in just three days,” laughs Fernando.

The conference opened with a reception at the Houston Ballet, where Lauren Anderson, the ballet’s first African American principal dancer, gave the keynote address. She was introduced by the Houston Ballet’s Executive Director Jim Nelson and Debbie McNulty, director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. The following days were jam-packed with presentations by leaders from local arts organizations, including Perryn Leech, managing director of the Houston Grand Opera (HGO), Shannon Buggs, executive director of CultureWorks, Ten Eyck Swackhamer, general manager of the Alley Theatre and Marci Dallas, executive director of FreshArts. The group spoke during the first panel, “Resilient Houston: Turning the Tide After Harvey”, discussing how their organizations coped with the devastating hurricane. The day opened with a performance by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Houston’s poet laureate.

“It was important for us to respond to Harvey and address disaster recovery, because it affected the arts in such a profound way,” says Fernando. Arts organizations had to get creative last fall; the Alley Theatre hosted its first show of the season at the UH School of Theatre & Dance, while HGO set up shop in an alternative performance space, dubbed the Resilience Theatre. “The arts community rallied together. We really stepped up to help one another.”

Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts (KGMCA) Dean Andrew Davis and John Abodeely, CEO of Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) introduced a panel on Project Row Houses (PRH), the community initiative founded by UH School of Art professor Rick Lowe. The panel, moderated by director of the Center for Art & Social Engagement (CASE) Sixto Wagan, also featured PRH’s Tamika Evans.

Between sessions, attendees were encouraged to get out and explore the city. UH Arts Leadership student Carolyn Casey Figueroa and her husband, graffiti artist Gonzo247, led a mural tour through Houston’s East End and the UH campus. Attendees also had the chance to tour the new Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Glassell School and PRH galleries.

“People loved the tours,” says Fernando. “It spoke to our mission of making the connection between institutional, or formal, art and community art. They are often perceived as different realms, but they’re equally important. We want to break down those barriers.”

The AAAE conference was made possible by the generous support of the Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston.